Sam, The Great Houndini

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote The Hound of The Baskervilles, set in Dartmoor.  Old Crockern keeps his Whist Hounds in Wistman’s Woods and there is a landmark in Dartmoor known as Hound Tor.  There are many tales of hounds in this part of the world, but one little known story is that of Sam, The Great Houndini.

I mention our dog Sam a lot, so it seems fitting to introduce him.  He is smart, handsome, and manipulative and if he had the desire, a leader in the dog uprising to rid the world of the cat.  He is unlikely to have success as a leader in The K-9 Spring, as he possesses a level of shyness, worry, and anxiety.

Sam is a Border collie mix.  He’s got long black fur, except for his little white tuxedo chest.  His eyes are a golden brown and can will you to open the treat jar.  Two and a half years ago, we rescued Sam when he was about the age of 4.  We don’t know his full history, but we were told a few inaccuracies, including that he does well with dog savvy cats.  Turns out, he HATES all cats with singular intensity.

Sam first came to the collie rescue centre when one of their volunteers found him in a dog pound scheduled to be put to sleep.  When we brought him home a month later, he was anxious and distracted but responded to a number of commands, especially when treats were on offer.  He has a 7-inch scar on his side, the cause of which is unknown, so early on we forgave him any of his worries.  He was, and continues to be, on constant cat alert.


Sam (on left) with his best friend Jess

To meet him now is to notice that he is a pretty good dog.  He’s well behaved, polite to strangers, loyal beyond belief and an all around amazing athlete who is able to jump a five-foot fence rather than being lifted over it and negotiate rocks, water, and other tricky terrain with ease.   He wisely ignores the sheep and likes hanging out with the chickens.  He loves his walks and because he doesn’t play with toys (his choice), he must be walked.  He goes out a minimum of 3 hours a day.

When we were buying Crockern Farm, we spent a morning with the building surveyor.  Because another dog and a cat lived in the house, we kept Sam in the car.   After we had concluded our business (see the first blog about the chickens and new roof!), we went for a walk for a couple of hours.  On our return, the woman selling the house invited us in for some lunch before we headed back to our home.

Much to our surprise, Sam met her dog without any incident.  Her dog is an unneutered male Labrador.  Pick a combination that can put Sam ill at ease, and this is it.  But a quick assessing sniff between the two and all was fine.  We entered the house, Sam still on lead, when he spotted the cat.

All the times looking at Crockern, I never once saw this cat.  I knew it was here, but it kept hidden as cats often do.  Bring a new dog into the house and that cat came slinking down the stairs like Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver, “You talkin’ to me? You talkin’ to me? You talkin’ to me? Then who the hell else are you talkin’ to? You talkin’ to me? Well I’m the only one here. Who the fuck do you think you’re talking to?” The line was drawn in the sand, the red mist descended and Sam lunged.

Architectural details are important.  There are two doors to this kitchen.  One is a lovely pine door that leads to the rest of the house.  The other is a green door, with a cat flap, which leads to a boot room with another door and cat flap leading to the outside.  The woman took her hissing-puffed-up-tail-feline-fighter and put it outside.  Two doors, two cat flaps.  Cat outside.  Sam inside. We all sat down to lunch.

Slow, slinky, and all too aware of being a troublemaker, that she-wolf came back into the kitchen from the outside.   The next several moments were helter-skelter as we chased Sam who was chasing the cat.  Chairs upturned and a good deal of confusion all in the space of about 3 seconds.

To restore order, the woman put the cat into the house, closing the door without the cat flap.  Roger put Sam in the car.  We ate and talked, feeling excited about this becoming our home.

In the early 1900’s Houdini successfully performed in the US with escapes from jails, handcuffs, chains, and straitjackets, among other things.  He had to up the ante as imitators took on his act.   In 1912, Houdini introduced one of his most famous acts, The Chinese Water Torture Cell.  In this stunt, Houdini was suspended upside-down in a locked steel and glass cabinet full of water from which he had to escape.  He had to hold his breath for more than three minutes in this act.  The man had some magical talent and a few physical techniques (like dislocating his shoulder to get out of straight jackets), but may have met his match with Sam.

In the style of a Vaudeville performance, Sam inexplicably managed to get out of the car.  We only noticed this when his little black nose was poking through the cat flap from the boot room into the kitchen.  There are three possibilities:  a walker passing by let him out (unlikely); he opened the door with his paw and closed the door with an artful kick of his back legs once he was out of the car (more unlikely); he squeezed his body through the car window which was open a mere 4 inches (ouch!).  After making his way free from the car, he squeezed through the outside cat flap, and was planning to enter the kitchen.

Sam is a mid-size dog, weighing in at 15 kilos.  Bigger than a cat flap and 4 inches of car window!  He is loyal, but may also have some separation issues.  He is devoted to his humans and needed to protect us from THAT CAT.

From 1917 until his death in 1926, Houdini was the President of the Society of American Magicians (S.A.M.).  In 2012, our Sam started laying the plans to become a legend in his own time.